Merce Cunningham Dance Company

2 Reviews of the Event at Tate Modern

Review by Katherine Phillips

November 4, 2003 -- Tate Modern, London

Photo: Tony Dougherty


Descending the ramp in to the vast concrete Turbine hall, it takes a little while to register that Olafur Eliasson’s gigantic sun is not a full circle, but rather a semi- circle reflected in a mirrored ceiling.

In this reflection we see ourselves, the audience, milling around the space amidst smoke machines and soft, greyish lighting. The music begins; scraping, growling strings unnerve the audience before the dancers appear and march to one of three square dance floors, positioned below the gallery upon which the musicians sit, and over which, Eliasson’s sun beams artificially down.

The installation art work is an ideal setting for this all encompassing dance piece, where the surroundings, the audience and the dancers all become equal components of the performance environment. The audience shifts from floor section to floor section, as do the dancers as they arc, jump and lunge in sequence, flitting between the spaces.

The spectators become as much a part of the performance as the dancers – they are the pattern border on the ceiling mirror canvas. As the music becomes more tense and discordant, the audience seems to move more quickly between the performance areas, slowing again when the music calms. There is a sense of everyone moving to their own timing – the dancers and the musicians certainly, and the audience influenced by both.

Each angle from this promenade performance provides a new perspective and it is especially thrilling to have a birds eye view in the ceiling – something usually only made available through the use of film. Choreographic elements such as isolation and grouping of the dancers are made more prominent by the parallels or juxtaposition of the audience - endless possibilities, parallels and view points are created by the encapsulating nature of the performance experience.

Review by Lyndsey Winship

November 2003, Tate Modern, London

This was definitely 'an event'.

I loved the scale of the whole thing, the vast space, the echoing soundscape. In fact when the dancers first came on I felt like they were a bit too small and human. You could see them wobbling in their balances, make out the zips and seams in their (horrible) catsuits. But as the piece progressed you settled into the rhythm of it -- became a part of it really.

I also liked how casual it was – people sitting with their coats on, standing, wandering around. You could choose what you wanted to watch. It was a bit like being in a supermarket, they lay out the goods and you take your pick.

And it made you watch in a totally different way to being at a theatre, you could take in the bigger picture or zoom in to a single limb. But I think the movement itself was best appreciated on a small scale. Near the end I stopped flitting between stages and became entranced by a duet between two women touching elbows. Suddenly I wasn't really aware of the surroundings, just two dancers.

But at one point I also became quite engrossed in the offstage dance of an usher who repeatedly had to move spectators away from the cordoned-off area. This wasn't what I was supposed to be looking at but I think Merce 'Chance' Cunningham might have appreciated it – the unexpected result of arbitrary parameters and all that.

I thought the whole experience was very much about the choice you have as an audience. You get out what you put in. And you couldn't deny it was a great celebration for the company's 50th anniversary.

Edited by Jeff.

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